Mining Deaths in Australia On The Rise
The mining boom in Australia has brought a lot of benefits to the country in the form of investment and employment. However, a recent report released by Safe Work Australia, has brought to light a worrying trend in the mining industry, specifically that of worker fatalities.
According to the report, though we are just over halfway through the year 2014, worker fatalities in mining have already risen above the whole year total for 2013 and are nearly triple the year to date totals for the comparable time period of 2013. These numbers also come in a period where almost every other industry has seen a marked decrease in worker fatalities as compared to the previous year.
Though the mining industry employs 2.2% of the Australian population, mining fatalities made up 11% of the total fatalities (year to date 2014). Although it is expected that there would be more accidents on average in mining due to the inherently dangerous nature of the work, these numbers would suggest that the increase goes beyond that danger.
One possible reason for the disparity, and possibly also the increase, is the inexperience of mining workers in the field. When a boom such as the Australian mining boom occurs, there is inevitably a shortage of workers to fill the positions available. This, coupled with the remoteness of most mining locations, means that companies must offer salaries above the average in order to entice workers to seek employment in mining. Drawn in by the offer of high salaries, many people who have little or no previous experience in mining will take jobs in the fields, bringing with them a dangerous level of inexperience with regards to mining safety.
Therefore, in an inherently dangerous industry, management must make sure that every possible step is taken with regards to training, equipment and processes, to ensure that safety is the number one priority at all times on the mining site.
Training is of vital importance, as it is the single biggest factor in overcoming a lack of experience in mining or any other industry. Site specific safety training for all employees on the mining site, as well as training in the use and maintenance of safety equipment will go a long way towards minimising contractor risks.
Personal safety equipment is a mainstay of the mining industry, however some thought should be given towards incentivising 100% compliance with regards to the use of gear such as hard hats and protective goggles, as well as masks where applicable.
Enforced policies on shift length, worker hydration and substance abuse should be in place at all mining sites with frequent management checks as to compliance. Fatigue management specifically is of vital importance, as with most mines running 24/7 12 hour shift schedules, it only takes one shift swap for a worker to be going 20+ hours without sleep, creating an immediate hazardous situation for all those on shift.
Safety measures do not have to be hugely expensive, even for mining vehicles. For instance, the simple addition of LED emergency lights onto all vehicles will greatly reduce the chance of low light or low visibility vehicle accidents. In the case of open cut mining, the vast majority of accidents involve heavy machinery and vehicles, therefore making that equipment as visible as possible is of paramount importance.
The recent report has increased calls for a country wide review of mining safety policies and procedures, and if the trend continues such a review seems inevitable. The mining industry will be a major player in the Australian economy for a very long time, and with mining worker deaths on the rise, every effort needs to be made to improve safety and prevent avoidable worker fatalities.